My first year as USPTO director was about gathering input via many formats; now it’s time for more action on meaningful change
BY KATHI VIDAL
One year into my role as director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office—at the intersection of IP law, policy, and innovation—I am focused on impact.
I’ve spent the past year listening and reading: in nearly 100 external stakeholder meetings; in internal, small group listening sessions with over 1,500 USPTO employees; reading your comments submitted via our requests for comments and your emails to my Engage with the Director inbox; participating in over 130 fireside chats, and in all my interactions across the world with inventors, entrepreneurs, and everyone who cares about making our IP ecosystem work for all.
If this year was often about listening and gathering the input and data to make meaningful, sustainable change, 2023 (and beyond) is about action.
Per our draft 2022-2026 Strategic Plan, the USPTO is advancing five strategic goals:
- Drive inclusive U.S. innovation and global competitiveness;
- Promote the efficient delivery of reliable IP rights;
- Promote the protection of IP against new and persistent threats;
- Bring innovation to positive impact;
- Generate impactful employee and customer experiences by maximizing agency operations.
Below are a few examples of this work in the past year.
Driving inclusion, working globally. Last year, the USPTO expanded its Council for Inclusive Innovation (CI²), and I joined the Economic Development Administration’s National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship as a co-chair to work across government and with the private sector to expand the innovation ecosystem—especially among under-represented and under-resourced groups, and in key technology areas. Under CI², we launched our First-time Filer Expedited Examination Pilot Program to assist qualifying independent inventors and small businesses with getting a patent faster and to help their businesses grow.
We are also digging deep in specific communities.
We cofounded, along with U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, our WE Initiative to inspire and empower more women leaders to jump-start their journeys of innovation. We are working with the Intellectual Property Owners Association and other associations to create a “mentorshIP” program that facilitates meaningful interactions between budding women entrepreneurs and successful women who can share lessons from their experiences. We issued our study on the geography of women in patents to better understand economic and socioeconomic correlations with patenting by women.
We are working with historically Black colleges and universities and minority serving institutions on expanding tech transfer initiatives. We are more fully engaged with the Native American community on how we can best support innovation and entrepreneurship on tribal lands and elsewhere.
Last year, we launched a new online resource, EquIP HQ, which features online games, interviews with inventors, and lesson plans for the classroom. We hosted events throughout the year for K-12 educators, including monthly webinars, our annual National Summer Teacher Institute, and our first Master Teacher of Invention Education Program.
We are doubling down on our pro bono legal services (free to qualifying applicants), which will open the doors for additional support and representation for innovators. In the past year:
- Our free services webpage amassed over 77,000 views, ranking it among the most popular pages on our website.
- We launched the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Pro Bono Clearinghouse Program, and the PTAB Pro Bono Program.
- We expanded the Law School Clinic Certification Program.
- We solicited feedback on ways we can expand the patent bar, create a design bar, and expand opportunities for practice before the PTAB.
I’ve met with over two dozen foreign IP office leaders and have embarked on an ambitious global agenda to strengthen our respective IP systems. We entered into over a dozen cooperative agreements that identify concrete plans for promoting the transparency, accessibility, and reliability of our IP policies and practices.
We also developed and provided capacity-building programs, organized and conducted by USPTO attorneys, to help improve IP systems in key countries and regions to benefit U.S. stakeholders. Our Global Intellectual Property Academy conducted 222 programs this past year covering all areas of IP. It trained more than 10,679 officials from 161 countries and intergovernmental organizations, and over 6,526 small and medium-sized U.S. enterprises, U.S. government officials, and other U.S. stakeholders.
Strengthening IP rights. Our team has been actively engaged with Congress and in the courts, including working closely with the Departments of Commerce and Justice, to work to ensure our laws foster a strong innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem.
We created more clarity and certainty in Patent Trial and Appeal Board practice in director review and discretionary denials in America Invents Act proceedings, and with post-grant challenges in general.
We requested and received comments on patent eligibility guidance, and on how to ensure robust and reliable patents.
Protecting against fraud. We conducted Trademark Modernization Act proceedings that have resulted in the cancellation of 1,097 unused goods or services out of the 1,119 goods or services challenged. We implemented identity verification for all trademark filers to protect our system from scammers. We registered USPTO marks to thwart fraudulent solicitations by scammers to trademark customers. We issued 150 orders terminating over 600 invalid applications and sanctioning 70 registrations for violations of our trademark rules of practice and website terms of service.
We are dedicated to protecting businesses and their brands by informing consumers about the dangers and consequences of purchasing counterfeit or pirated goods through our partnership with the National Crime Prevention Council. Public service announcement campaigns for teens and tweens as part of our Go for Real campaign had a combined 78,435 airings on TV stations and over 570 million impressions.
Enhancing the customer experience. Internal improvements include a new Patent Public Search tool to make searching for grants and applications much easier; an improved routing and classification process that better matches examiners’ expertise with the applications they examine; examiner training on new artificial intelligence (AI) tools to enhance prior art searching, and information technology systems upgrades.
We launched our AI/ET (emerging technology) Partnership and recently published a request for comments on AI and inventorship (responses due May 15). We are working on the responsible introduction of new AI into our workflow while we work across government and closely with the Department of Commerce on AI.
Climate change-related initiatives include our newly announced Trademarks for Humanity Awards Program; our Patents for Humanity Green Energy category; expedited examination procedures through the Climate Change Mitigation Pilot Program; and our partnership with the World Intellectual Property Organization’s WIPO GREEN Program.
We are excited about what the rest of 2023 will bring and look forward to making a meaningful impact for our country and all of you!
Kathi Vidal is undersecretary of commerce for intellectual property and director of the USPTO.
For more information, visit uspto.gov/blog/director/entry/one-year-of-bringing-innovation.